The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 11
by Joe Solmo
Grian winced every time he heard a scream. He knew each one ended in someone’s death. Inside the central keep, the noise of battle wasn’t as loud. His dwarven boots loudly clopped on the stone floors of the halls that were surprisingly empty. There wasn’t a trace of the brothers he had wished to follow, but he had assumed they went for Sreg and Birell.
His heart was torn as to his next step. He wanted to make sure his elf friend was safe, but at the same time he could feel his god urging him on to the Keystone. He was so close now, he could point at it. It was upstairs and behind him.
The dwarf paladin hesitated at the stairs, one flight went up, another down. It took him a minute to convince himself the brothers had what it took to rescue his friend. He headed up the stone stairs.
The hall above was well lit with both torches and glass covered holes in the ceiling, something that reminded him of his dwarven home. Many shafts covered with glass let light filter down into the grand halls the dwarven people met in for council meetings and other community events.
There were several worn wooden doors on either side of the hall, but Grian ignored them. The large double doors at the end of the hall was his destination, he could practically taste it. It called to him like his god’s temple in the Forest of the Damned did.
He heard footsteps behind him coming up the stairs as he reached the double doors. He gripped the handle of his hammer and turned towards the stairs. He was too close now to let anything get in his way.
Stone Shield raced around the landing with his spear in his hand. Grian envied the warriors lean frame, not winded from the climb. Wind Dancer came up behind him a minute later. “Healer. Have you found your Keystone?” the shaman asked.
“It’s in here. I can feel it,” Grian replied, and put his hand on the wooden handle attached to the left door. The dwarf realized he was holding his breath and let it out. He yanked the door open and stepped inside…
Birell followed the brothers up and out of the dungeons below the keep. The sounds of fighting were slowing down, but from inside she couldn’t tell who was winning. Her eyes scanned every slumped body they came across fearing for her dwarven friend’s life. She felt bad for feeling relieved none of them were him, but every single body she found was someone. She entered the courtyard and saw a few of the desert warriors circling and protecting some of the wounded. She approached them.
“Have you seen Grian?” she asked, glancing around at the carnage in the keep. The warriors shook their heads negatively. “Thank you,” she said and raced to the stone steps leading to the wall. From up there she should be able to spot the dwarf, she thought.
She spotted Skrat near the entrance to the castle, sending fireballs into clumps of castle soldiers. The young mage showed no mercy as he attacked both soldiers that were aggressive and ones cowering in some of the buildings and marketplace displays around the courtyard. Fires raged around. Birell could see several of the castle soldiers throw down their weapons and head towards the well near the central keep.
They raised buckets of water and tried to contain the fire. She thought about helping them. Fire didn’t discriminate and many could lose their lives if it got out of control. She raced around the parapet to the stone stairs near the well. She felt the wave of heat as a fireball raced just under her and slammed into the well, exploding the stone in all directions.
The soldiers screamed out as their skin boiled from the magical heat. The metal armor they wore turned red and melted to their bodies. “No,” Birell managed to whisper, in shock of the carnage below.
She leapt from the wall and raced to their aid but they were all dead but one. He begged her to end his life. With a tear in her eye, she looked for Grian, he was the only one that could heal the soldier at this point. She placed her blade under the man’s chin and thrust, letting the sob escape her body. She turned towards Skrat.
The Birell and Skrat’s eyes met. The mage made eye contact with a cold expression. He had just horrifically taken the lives of these men who were trying to contain the fire without remorse. He turned from here and sent a bolt of lightning towards a group of soldiers, before he began to climb the stone stairs up the wall. Birell stood there in shock at the matter-of-factness the youth took to killing. She would have to have a talk to him later.
The sound of a war horn distracted her. It came from the desert in front of the castle. The fighting momentarily stopped as everyone tried to see which side had reinforcements coming to aid them. A dark shape flew over the castle wall and Birell got a sinking feeling. No help was coming for her, but they wouldn’t help the castle people either. It was the Tower looking for Skrat. She looked through the open gate at hundreds of tower soldiers and a half dozen wyverns circling above. She raced into the keep to warn Grian.
The dwarf looked out of the broken window at the desert in front of the castle, Wind Dancer pointed out into the desert. “I came as soon as I could, healer. They came quickly, through some kind of portal. Many men and beasts,” the shaman explained.
“This cannot be good,” Stone Shield said.
“We need to get those gates closed before they get here,” Grian said.
“And what of the flying beasts?” asked Wind Dancer.
“Maybe Skrat can counter them,” Grian said. Find Moose, he killed one almost single-handedly before. Tell him we need his help. If they found Birell and Sreg they can help with their bows,” Grian said. He shocked himself how quickly he took to giving orders. A month ago he never would have thought he had it in him. He turned his attention back to the door at the far end of the room.
He could feel the power of the keystone from within. It called to him, but the door was locked. All three of them couldn’t budge it, there had to be a trick to get it open. He studied the lock. The key hole was a large rectangle, large enough for even Moose to cram his fist in it. He peered inside.
He couldn’t find any mechanism inside the keyhole to unlock it. No lever, to release the lock. He looked around the room for an object to fit, while Stone Shield guarded the double doors they had come through.
He heard the fighting grow in intensity as the approaching army entered the still closing gate. The screech of the wyverns were getting closer to the central keep. Grian envisioned them right outside the window ready to spit acid at him.
Stone Shield his grunted and fell to the ground. Grian turned towards the doorway as three castle soldiers entered. Another appeared a second later from thin air, wiping his dagger on his pants. Grian looked at his fallen friend first with sadness, then that sadness turned to anger. He called out to his god. “Hu’Mod, grant me the power to defeat your foes! In your name I act.”
The soldiers hesitated for just a moment. Which was long enough for the paladin to feel his god’s power flood into his body. He pulled his Warhammer from his belt loop and held it over his head.
White light, full of electrical power flickered and danced around the rectangle head of the hammer. The soldier with the dagger took a step to the side and faded into nothingness. Grian closed his eyes and concentrated, trusting in his god. He waited a second then swung connecting his Warhammer with the invisible foe.
When he opened his eyes the would-be assassin lay on the ground, half of his face caved in, and burnt from the holy energy. His companions had fled. Grian knelt next to his friend and said a prayer for him.
Once again he approached the door, eyeing the lock. “How can I become a Hammer of Hu’Mod if I can’t even open…”he started to say then paused. He looked down at his weapon in his hand and smiled. Still crackling with Hu’Mod’s power, Grian pushed the end of his weapon into the rectangle hole, it fit perfectly. He heard an audible click then a stone sliding on stone sound as the door began to open. He retrieved his weapon and looked into the chamber, using the light emitting from his weapon to see inside.
Against the back wall was a pedestal of white marble. On the top of that was a yellow stone, glowing slightly. Grian took a few steps closer to the object, in awe. He could feel Hu’Mod’s power so strongly! It drew him in, the light, the holiness and purity of an object forged by Hu’Mod.
The elation he felt made him antsy, he could barely stand still. In fact before he realized it he was within reach of his quests goal. He took a deep breath. He knew this was what all the fighting was for, he had to get this back to Hu’Mod’s temple in the Wood of the Damned. He had to release his god from his prison. Soon the glory and power of Hu’Mod would be back in the world. That thought alone made him feel euphoric.
He reached out and touched the yellow stone. It radiated energy. He noticed small motes of yellow energy encircling the stone. When he put his hand on it, the motes started to encircle his arm. They felt warm, like the rays of spring afternoon sun, chasing away the morning chill. A smile crossed his bearded face at the sensation.
He hefted the stone in his hand, and was surprised at how light it was. He turned it over. It looked carved, with many facets, like a gem more than a stone. He opened his pack and pulled out his blanket. Then he wrapped the keystone carefully in the blanket before returning it to his pack. He didn’t want to stop holding the item. When he was holding it, he was close to Hu’Mod, it was addicting.
The world seemed to grow a little darker now that he wasn’t in contact with the Keystone anymore. Grian sighed and headed to the window to see how the battle was going. He saw the tower soldiers inside the gate fighting with both the castle men and the desert folk, taking advantage of the fatigued state of both armies. The corpses laying around the fighting weighted Grian’s heart. This was all his fault.
The desert folk had managed to get the gate closed, but not before half of the army was inside. The wyverns flying overhead dropped boulders from their taloned feet down on groups of soldiers, or knocked others from the walls. With every swoop they spit acid down on the fighting below, disfiguring anyone unfortunate enough to be below them.
By the time Grian made it out onto the parapet the castle soldiers and the desert folk had made a temporary truce to finish off the tower people trapped inside the gate. Those men were trying to reach the gate house to let their army in. They were trapped up against the wall near the stone stairs that led up to Grian’s position.
The dwarf looked around for his friends, he saw Birell and Sreg on the far wall, firing arrows at the flying beasts, occasionally ducking behind the stone wall to avoid the poison rain that followed. Moose and Zeeg were fighting an injured Wyvern in the courtyard that Sreg must have brought down with arrows, it had several stuck in its back.
Skrat was standing over the gate, facing down into the courtyard, Grian ran towards the youngest brother. He wanted the mage to use a binding spell to stop the bloodshed. “Skrat!” Grian called out.
The mage looked up at him and Grian stopped dead in his tracks. The look on Skrat’s face was scary. Grian said a quick prayer to Hu’Mod for guidance. “Skrat, bind them below. We don’t need any more bloodshed,” Grian called out.
Skrat stared back at him with a blank expression. At first Grian didn’t think the mage had heard him. “Please, Skrat,” he called out again. “Stop the bloodshed.”
The mage nodded to him, and Grian felt relief. It would all be over soon, he thought. He was relieved but knew he would be spending days here healing everyone he could. He watched as the mage turned his attention to the people down below. Small spindly arms raised over his head, Skrat began to chant in a language Grian had never heard.
The dwarf swore the sky grew darker as he the mage worked. Grian looked down below to see the binding spell take effect, but what he saw terrified him instead. All at once, like they were being controlled by a macabre puppeteer, all the tower soldiers raised a foot off the ground. A popping sound was heard as all the soldiers bodies at once moved two feet to the left of their heads. Every tower soldier died instantly.
“No, Skrat. Why?” Grian called out falling to his knees.
“They wouldn’t have stopped, Paladin,” he said still with the blank look on his face. No remorse hid behind those eyes. A chill ran down Grian’s spine.
“We could have stopped them,” Grian said. “We could have saved lives,” he said. Skrat turned away from Grian and a blue-black bubble surrounded the mage. He rose into the air up and out over the army at the gates. He looked back over his shoulder at Grian.
“If you have a weak stomach I suggest you look away. I will not be taken back there, not now, not after finally finding out who I am,” Skrat said and a wicked smile shown on his face, it was the first hint of emotion the mage had shown all day. He turned back towards the awaiting army and tore them all in half, right down to the last man. Several hundred people died at the exact same time, falling to the ground in unison in a blood soaked splat.
The mage looked down at his brothers in the courtyard, for a second his mask of indifference faltered. HE turned back towards Grian. “Tell my brothers…Tell them it will all be explained soon,” Skrat said and started to drift away in his bubble.
“Let us tell them together, it’s not too late,” Grian called out after him. He heard a crash below and was surprised at a Moose sized hole in the red rock of the castle wall. The largest of the brothers was running after Skrat.
“This has to happen. You will understand soon enough, Paladin of Hu’Mod,” Skrat said and drifted over the corpses of tower army that had come for him. Grian watched helplessly from the wall.
Moose tried his best to keep up with the mage, but navigating through the carnage and desert features slowed him down. Soon Skrat was out of sight past the rocks they had hidden behind earlier, when the world was full of hope. Moose stopped there, just in view of the castle. From the wall Grian could see the mountain of a man slunk his shoulders and give him. Even from this great distance the dwarf could hear the sorrowful wail of the largest of the brothers as he lost Skrat.
Sreg and Zeeg met Grian on the way down the stairs while Birell was organizing the desert folk warriors below. The dwarf saw the looks on their faces and knew they were in pain at Skrat’s betrayal. He wished he knew how to heal that kind of pain as well.
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